2023 NFL Draft

Running Backs ‘A Waste Of Time’ For Cincinnati Linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.

The University of Cincinnati Linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. is a spark plug of a linebacker in more ways than one. He started out his college career quickly at the Miami of Ohio, famously tallying up six of his seven sacks in one game vs. Akron. After a three-game COVID season, Pace Jr. came to the forefront in 2021 as one of the best defenders in the MAC, putting together a career year with 125 tackles 13.0 for loss 4.0 sacks.

The productivity caught the eye of Luke Fickell and his staff at Cincinnati coming off a College Football Playoff birth and brought in Pace Jr. to be the heart and soul of their defense that lost studs across the board to the NFL, including the likes of Sauce Gardner and Darrian Beavers. Pace Jr. more than filled the shoes of those before him, authoring one of the best defensive seasons Cincinnati has ever seen and becoming the first Bearcat to ever earn unanimous All-America accolades behind 136 total tackles, 20.5 for loss, and 9.0 sacks.

The undersized linebacker gives off pitbull vibes with his compact frame standing at only 5’10” but filling it out with 231 pounds of mostly muscle. Ivan will say himself that size doesn’t matter.

Most players built like him are extremely stiff and can’t move. However, Pace is a twitched-up linebacker with elite short-area quickness and burst that supplement his specialty, blitzing. His ability to get to the quarterback shined during backs on backers, not losing a rep through three practices.

I was able to catch up with Pace Jr. after the second day of practice and he was far from impressed with the competition during backs on backers.

“I honestly feel like it’s a waste of time for me. No lie, I need some big people like linemen or some tight ends or something to block me. I ain’t never gonna let no running back stop me.”

He was ripping around running backs with a plethora of moves and his short-area quickness made it nearly impossible for running backs to hit him squarely.

For Pace it’s more about confidence than playing off a favorite move/

“I ain’t got no favorite move. I just go up there just like knowing I’m gonna beat him. Whatever move I do, I’m gonna beat him.”

Steelers Defensive Backs Coach Grady Brown was the National Team’s Defensive Coordinator and was constantly preaching to the defense through practice to get the ball out. That type of mentality is something that Pace is familiar with from his college days/

“That’s how it was in Cincinnati. We gotta get the ball out. Every 7-on-7, 1-on-1, we gotta punch the ball out. Get your arm in there and arm bar that ball out.”

While the Pittsburgh coaching philosophy fits Pace’s mentality, Pace’s ability has seemingly left a mark on the Steelers. On the Bleave in Steelers podcast, former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor who now works for the team as a scout named Pace Jr. as one of the inside linebackers that caught his eye at the Senior Bowl. When thinking back to some of the uber-physical linebackers that Taylor crossed paths with in Pittsburgh such as James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, and Larry Foote to name a few, it’s not surprising that Pace Jr.’s play would appeal to him.

While Pace Jr. showcased his best trait down in Mobile, he certainly has some question marks about his game that will limit him at the next level. His lack of length hurts him getting off blocks in the run game and he’s generally ineffective in man coverage. Those downfalls will hurt his case to be a three-down linebacker in the NFL, but with the fire that burns deep inside Pace Jr., he’s not someone I would actively bet against. If the team that drafts him has a plan of how to deploy his instincts, toughness, and short-area quickness, he could develop into an effective playmaker in the NFL.

You can read Ivan Pace Jr.’s full draft profile below.

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